Latino Representation and Stereotypes in American Film and Television


David Chavez


Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’. Photo courtesy of Marvel.

I had worked all day. Then, it was time to enjoy some TV. However, when I turned on the TV, a “South Park” episode where Eric Cartman shouts at Mexicans who are looking for garden work appeared. I changed the channel. Next was “Modern Family”. Actress Sofia Vergara plays a sexy, strong-accented character on that show. Next show, “George Lopez” – based on a blue-collar hard-working Mexican-American family doing jobs that are stereotypical for Hispanics, the son being a special ed student, and showing that immigrants are lazy. 

These examples of how my Latino culture is being displayed as a complete joke just to entertain the audience is not appreciated by mi gente. These tv productions are giving perspectives of how others view Latinos or how they think we should be. We need to see more Latino characters with true depictions of how we are and also shows that are created and based on our pride and culture. Such shows could illustrate how the Latino culture is a proud, colorful, grito, and pasión image not a cliché. 

American film and television create limited and stereotypical characters for Latinos, in which the characters are either criminals, laborers, or sex-objects. These stereotypes are unfair representation to the Latino community showing discrimination to young viewers, and pigeon-hole us to less opportunities, especially for Latino actors and actresses. TV and film studios should include more diverse representation to help benefit the Latino Community.

The stereotypes in American Film and television come from real-life stereotypes of a Latino person. For example, Mexicans are brown-skinned, non-English speaking immigrants who supposedly came from Mexico to steal your American jobs and/or deal drugs in your neighborhood. This mentality started way before President Donald Trump. The stereotypical narrative of our people taking jobs from “Americans” began in the 1800s after the Mexican-American War ended. Roughly 55 percent of Mexicans were still living in the territory where the U.S staked claims in the area and were granted citizenship. This is when the Mexican-American population started to grow. Eventually, the Chicano Movement further progressed our civil rights demands as equal Americans but we also saw the highest peak of immigrants fighting to gain their rights for many Latinos. This change helped Latinos gain access to more opportunities for education, workforce development, and also to become actors and actresses. However, it didn’t secure those acting roles as astronauts and doctors or other top-tier acting positions. Instead, they were hired as maids or gangbangers.

The criminal and labor stereotypes are the top two characters based on Latinos in American film and television. In “Mi Familia,” the main character was a gardener and his two sons were gang members. In “Rambo: Last Blood,” the main antagonist is a Mexican cartel leader it also describes that the movie is xenophobic. Not Only that but the Academy Award-winning film “West Side Story” helped build a template of Latinos as gang members and street thugs. Latinos are also portrayed as workers, like maids, repair workers, or gardeners. In an episode of Black-ish there was a gardener in which the main character Rainbow thought was Latino however he was white. Such stereotypical scenes of construction workers being portrayed as male Latinos is often seen in television. 

Another example of how Latinos are misrepresented, even in children’s shows, is on the Disney Junior show “Handy Manny.” Manny is a repairman that works with his tools to fix things people break and call him in a pinch. Both of these stereotypes come from the history of Latino immigrants – especially the idea that we’ll drop everything for work and a cheap rate.

Latinas are also commonly shown in shows as “hookers” or “Latin Lovers” which means that Latinas are sexualized. Also, Latinas are portrayed as the types of women who are spirited, sexy, and noisy. When “Modern Family” debuted in 2009 Sofia Vergara played Gloria Delgado Pritchett, a sexy, Spanish-accented housewife. Many Latinas were not happy with Vergara’s character because they are describing her as a sex-siren and a feisty Latina. In “Orange is the New Black,” there have been multiple characters with feisty attitudes such as Gloria Mendoza, Dayanara Diaz, Marisol Gonzales, Blanca Flores, Maria Ruiz, Aleida Diaz, and Maritza Ramos. Latinas are mostly commonly known for this stereotype because it’s based on our culture. 

We need to end these stereotypes and show that the Latino Culture isn’t something you can laugh at or think that all Latinos are the bad guys. We need to show the world that we are just like everybody else and right now we are starting to accomplish it. Movies like “In the Heights” and “Encanto” represent the music and culture, and “Los Espookys” and “Gentefield” show that Latinos are trying to accomplish something big. 

So far not only are Latina actresses showing that they look good in bikinis, but that they look good shooting guns and killing bad guys. There are now Latina action stars like Kate del Castillo, Salma Hayek, Zoe Saldana, and Penelope Cruz. There are Latino actors who had previously only performed in their home country that are now getting attention from United States’ audiences. For example, Tenoch Huerta is a Mexican actor who mainly acted in Mexican media. However, fans now recognize him as Namor in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”. Yalitza Aparicio is a Mexican actress who started her career in Roma directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and her performance earned an Academy Award nomination. She recently started to get the attention of U.S producers. So far, we are making progress and hopefully we can accomplish this into something great instead of being showcased only as criminals or laborers. Somos Latinos – and we’re proud.